As the U.S. and Rhode Island prepare for the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 2026, a new non-profit organization has been formed to spotlight the role of Rhode Island in the War for Independence. The Battle of Rhode Island Association (BoRIA) mission is to raise awareness of Rhode Island’s unique Revolutionary War history, particularly that pertaining to the Rhode Island Campaign and Butts Hill Fort.
The new Association grew out of the effort to restore Butts Hill Fort. The work was initiated a year ago by the Portsmouth Historical Society in the form of the Butts Hill Fort Restoration Committee. As the restoration effort progressed, it became obvious that to gain the public support and resources needed to restore, and particularly to maintain, this historic Revolutionary War artifact, it would be necessary to bring to bring the story of Butts Hill Fort and its role in the War to a statewide audience. Rhode Island’s place in the Revolution is in general not widely known. It is an interesting story and deserves to be told.
The new Battle of Rhode Island Association aims to be a focal point for exchange of information on Rhode Island’s role in the War of independence.
Rhode Island is, at best, mentioned in the history books for the burning of the Gaspee. Those willing to dig a bit deeper may find reference to the one-day fight known as the Battle of Rhode Island which is itself a part of a broader series of events known as the Rhode Island Campaign. The Battle of Rhode Island Association intends to tell the story of the British Occupation of Aquidneck Island, the Battle of Rhode Island, including the Siege of Newport, and the arrival and departure of our French allies. It is a story important to a full understanding of the War for Independence in general and for Rhode Island history in particular.
“It is important to note,” said Joe Studlick, Co-Chair of the Restoration Committee, “that the new organization in no way detracts from the efforts to open the restored Butts Hill Fort for public historical, educational and recreational pursuits. The Association will support the Fort’s restoration while serving as the focal point for the exchange of historical information, educational resources, and events relative to the Rhode Island in the Revolutionary War. The story covers the State.”
The Association’s website, which should be operational by mid-year, has drawn interest from such organizations as the Rhode Island Maritime Archeological Project, the Washington Rochambeau Revolutionary Route Association, and Souvenir Francais USA. These and others have expressed interest in participating in, and contributing to, the site.
Directors of the Association recently met with Nick Edwards the Program Coordinator for the State’s RI250 Commission. Edwards was enthusiastic about the Battle of Rhode Island Association’s work and suggested that we brief the entire Commission. Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea chairs the RI250 Commission and frequently emphasizes Rhode Island’s role in the shaping of our country.
Recently the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati has provided a grant of $7000. The Society of the Cincinnati is made up of descendants of officers who served in the Continental Army, several of whom served here during the Rhode Island Campaign. Many units from the Massachusetts State Militia also served in this campaign. The fact that this organization from another state would generously give to this effort is an indication of the type of interest the Association expects to generate and more people become aware of both Butts Hill Fort and the related events.
The Whalley Foundation of Houston, Texas has provided $10,000 toward the development of a Master Plan for Butts Hill Fort Restoration. The Master Plan is a critical goal for 2022. BoRIA has also applied for other grants to fund the Master Plan, which is expected to cost more than $50,000. Once the Master Plan is approved by the Portsmouth Town Council and the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, the way ahead for the restoration of the Fort will be fixed.
The Heritage Harbor Foundation, founded by State Historian Emeritus Dr. Patrick Conley, recently provided $2500 to be used also for the BoRIA website.